Making the facsimile of Tutankhamun’s Burial Chamber

The intricate process of creating an exact facsimile of the Tomb of Tutankhamun began as soon as the recording of the tomb was complete, and the data was processed. The images recorded in Luxor were processed and organised into files combining different layers of information, each requiring a different process of rematerialisation.  

The 3D information of the surface was carved into sheets of polyurethane and plaster using CNC routing machines – each sheet measured 3,60 m in height, the same as the original height of the tomb.  

The routed walls were cut into 1.5-meter sections, moulded in silicon and cast in a resin with a rigid backing structure, leaving no visible joins. Routing the entire walled surface of the Burial Chamber took over 6 months using two machines working in tandem, completing the work on March 24th 2010. 

The sarcophagus was also routed in sections into high-density polyurethane, joined together and cast into a resin composite resembling the original red granite. The traces of paint and colour were added by hand from photographs and notes made in the tomb. The sarcophagus’ broken lid, made in crystalline granite, was routed and cast in scagliola. 

In 2011, Factum Arte was working on developing a new method to apply high-resolution printed colour to an undulating surface while creating the facsimile of the Map of Bologna. Extensive testing resulted in the creation of an in-house formula to create a light, thin and flexible ‘skin’ that could be printed on Factum’s customised flatbed printer, and applied over a textured surface. 

The formula consisted of first creating a support that could accept pigmented ink without spread or loss of detail. The stretchable base formula was made of 2 thin layers of ink-jet ground and acrylic gesso, over which the high-resolution photographs were printed and the results were compared with the colour samples made during the recording process. A second colour file was then prepared to add tonal density and correct the hue of the colour. 

The colour ‘skins’ were then swiftly applied and carefully stretched over the 3D surface, using a slow-cure contact adhesive. The exact registration between the colour and the relief was determined by point-matching cracks, sharp edges of flaking paint and micro-bacteria marks. After the alignment, the skin and the relief were sealed using a vacuum press that evenly applied pressure to remove all air, seamlessly fusing the skin onto the surface. 

Joining the panels of the North Wall © Factum Arte

The original ceiling of the tomb of Tutankhamun was left unplastered, revealing many details about the way the tombs were carved and prepared. Lines of chisel marks, each about 1 cm wide, have produced a slightly irregular pattern on the surface. There is a clear line running across the ceiling from the west wall of the antechamber to the north wall of the burial chamber, indicating that the burial chamber is a widening of the antechamber. The facsimile of the ceiling was carved in fiber cement, in the same way as the original. 

Presentation of the facsimile in Cairo © Factum Foundation [click here for Spanish subtitles]

The 4th of November 2012 marked the 90th anniversary of the discovery of the first signs that would lead Howard Carter to discover the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Baroness Catherine Ashton – the then EU Higher Representative for Foreign Affairs – and the Egyptian Minister for Tourism, Mohammed Zaazou, arranged a Task Force Business and Tourism Summit in Cairo to define a programme of support for Egypt, following the events of the Arab Spring. 

Baroness Ashton taking a photograph of the facsimile. Mohammed Zaazou, the Egyptian Tourism Minister, James Moran, EU Ambasador, and Theo Abt from Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt also assisted the event, with Adam Lowe, Director of Factum Arte, presenting

 The facsimile of the Burial Chamber was unveiled at the event at the Conrad Hotel in Cairo, with Baroness Ashton presenting the gift of the facsimile as a token of the friendship between Europe and Egypt: 

The gift of the facsimile is a metaphor for the relationship between Europe and Egypt – the skills and technology that have been developed in Europe to create the facsimile are going to be transferred to Egypt where the local workers will be trained and those very skills and technology will become Egyptian.
Baroness Katherine Ashton, EU High Representative, November 14th 2012, Cairo

Building the facsimile site in the Valley of the Kings. On the far right in the background, Stoppelaëre House is visibleIn 2013, it was announced that the facsimile was to be installed in the Valley of the Kings, next to Carter’s House. Architect Tarek Waly was commissioned to create the space below ground, in an experience that closely resembles the original tomb in both lighting, feel and space.  

On the 30th April 2014, the facsimile of the funerary chamber of Tutankhamun was opened to the public by the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, in the presence of the Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zazou, the Governor of Luxor Tarek Saad el Din, the EU ambassador James Moran and about 25 other ambassadors from the EU countries, Malaysia, Mexico, India and elsewhere. The atmosphere was one of deep excitement and joy. 

The facsimile, which is identical to the original at normal viewing distances, is currently located with a display (see ‘The Authorized Facsimile of the Tomb of Tutankhamun’, curated by Adam Lowe, Jaromir Malek and Nicholas Reeves) explaining the history of the Tomb of Tutankhamun gives visitors an opportunity to understand the history of the tombs since their discovery and encourage conservation of tombs built to last an eternity but not to be visited. It also features a recreation of the lost portion of the South Wall, created in collaboration with the Griffith Institute. 


The facsimile presented in Luxor © Factum Foundation

The facsimile was featured on BBC Travel Show in May 2015.